Election time is not Christmas

Christmas comes early every general election. Some voters are like children, eager to receive the sweets and presents rained down on them by political parties. But while Christmas presents are usually of lesser value, election gifts or promises can run into the millions, if not billions.

Political parties bearing gifts is common, from blue water tanks to rice and cooking oil. But village folk may say, we still have the blue water tanks from previous elections – why do we need more? What we need is clean piped water.

In Sabah, people still talk about MACC’s biggest corruption haul at the Sabah Water Works Department. Money meant to provide rural folk with clean piped water went to corrupt government officials who filled their Aladdin’s caves with cash, jewellery, watches, handbags and cars.

Even opposition pact Pakatan Harapan (PH) was apparently caught in the act of giving goodies to voters before the election. PKR deputy president and Selangor Menteri Besar Mohamed Azmin Ali received brickbats from critics who said he was following in Barisan Nasional’s (BN) footsteps and setting a bad example for opposition parties.

At an opposition talk, meanwhile, the audience was told to take BN’s gifts but to vote opposition. The speakers said it was the people’s own money paid through taxes and therefore “halal”.

Money politics is now so common that at a Warisan event, its president Shafie Apdal had to apologise to the audience for not providing food or gifts, and only limited amounts of bottled water.

Yet, the crowds still came to hear him speak, proving that it is still possible to draw people without gifts or refreshments. However, this is not a common situation as many are accustomed to receiving something instead of leaving empty-handed.

Some Malaysians are spoilt – they expect free handouts for doing nothing. In many ways, the government has made them lazy and dependent. They expect to receive something every time a YB comes to visit – a habit developed over time which has become the norm. The YBs promise them new roads, bridges and schools which should have been built anyway during their term.

Political events are now so sophisticated that there are lucky draws with prizes like motorcycles and TVs. People come not to listen to the same boring speeches but to enjoy free transport, free food and drinks, entertainment and a chance to win lucky draw prizes. These events have become a circus.

The behaviour at some of these events also leaves much to be desired. Several recent incidents show that our moral values have deteriorated to new lows.

Thirty taxi drivers were reportedly injured while queuing to receive the RM800 preloaded 1Malaysia Taxi Assistance Card in Serdang. Videos of people smashing barriers and scrambling for the cards were truly shameful. How is it that we allow ourselves to behave in such a way that we completely forget about our civic manners?

In another incident, pandemonium reportedly broke out at the Aeon Tebrau mall when the Johor crown prince turned up and offered to foot shoppers’ grocery bills.

Shelves, baskets, trolleys and even food items were said to be damaged in the mad rush of shoppers. Another 1,000 shoppers at two other supermarkets were left disappointed when news that the prince was going to pay for their groceries as well turned out to be fake. Many trolleys, piled high with goods, were abandoned once the shoppers realised that it was a hoax.

What happened to the old adage from our parents: work hard and earn your living; there are no shortcuts in life? Has our government spoiled us rotten and conditioned us to be dependent on handouts like BR1M? When does it stop?

In John F Kennedy’s inaugural address on Jan 20, 1961, the newly elected president famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

This oft-quoted excerpt from the original speech is a reminder to all of us that we should not expect anything from anyone or become beholden to blind loyalty. Politicians who dish out presents do not do so for free – they expect something in return.

Life is tough, there’s no doubt about it. But there is nothing more gratifying than knowing that you have earned something through your own sweat and labour, not through political handouts that come once every four years. We should not allow an election windfall to cloud our judgment or our desire for change.

Joe Samad is an FMT columnist.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.